The Audi MLS Cup Playoffs are all about survival, an adage Seattle Sounders FC have become plenty familiar with over the years.
Pushed to their limit by a shorthanded, resilient FC Dallas side in their Round One Best-of-3 finale, Seattle emerged with a 1-0 victory Friday night at Lumen Field that booked their Western Conference Semifinal ticket (2-1 series win).
Now, a matchup awaits between two of the league's powerhouses, as the Sounders (No. 2) will host reigning MLS Cup champion LAFC (No. 3) in a single-elimination match on Nov. 25 or 26.
"I feel like our defending, to keep a clean sheet in a playoff game, it’s not an easy thing to do and we did it twice against Dallas in this series," said midfielder Albert Rusnák, whose 36th-minute strike decided Match 3. "So we’ve been consistent with that and I feel like today we created better chances in the game than the one we scored off.
"It took hard work today and a lot of grit at the end and defending to push through and go to the next round, but I guess that’s what playoffs are about."
Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer had much the same sentiment, calling the match "super intense" and crediting FC Dallas manager Nico Estévez with giving Seattle everything they could handle. After Seattle took a 2-0 victory in the series opener, the Texan side blitzed Seattle 3-1 in Match 2 at Toyota Stadium to force Friday's win-or-go-home contest.
The visitors, who have battled injuries all year, were without USMNT forward Jesús Ferreira and Argentine star Alan Velasco in attack. They attempted just one shot, an 89th-minute header from Nkosi Tafari.
"Sixteen clean sheets [for the team], including the playoffs," Schmetzer said. "Super talented goalkeeper. Team defending, is what I would say. Team defending. Because even at the end there, everybody was scrapping. Jordan [Morris] was still pressing. Nico [Lodeiro] was coming back, Albert was doing his thing, Cristian [Roldan] was gassed and he kept going.
Next up: LAFC
Seattle will now look to navigate past LAFC, who boast Golden Boot presented by Audi winner Dénis Bouanga. The Gabon international had 20 goals and seven assists in the regular season, plus tallied three goals in their Round One series sweep of Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
"Steve [Cherundolo] is a great coach, they have the Golden Boot winner. Very good team," Schmetzer said. "Ante [Razov] a former coach for us, little bit of a history there for sure.
"… Steve’s taken over and done a tremendous job, John Thorrington has done a great job moving players in and out, so that’s a great franchise."
Added Rusnak: "They’re a good team. I would say they’re attack-minded like us. I know it’s going to be a really good game. I know a lot of our fans will show up."
With St. Louis CITY SC (No. 1) eliminated by Sporting Kansas City (No. 8) via a Round One upset, the Sounders are the highest remaining seed and have hosting rights for the rest of their Western Conference playoff matches.
And Schmetzer, a veteran of four MLS Cup runs (two titles), said his 2023 group has traits that bode well for another.
"This year’s story isn’t finished," Schmetzer said. "This team has a good shot. We’ve got a good shot, we’ve got a couple home games. If we can make it past LAFC, then who knows?
"I think in 2019 we were surprised at Toronto; they upset a few people and we got the home game. You never know what’s going to happen in MLS."